When the shoots of emerging potato plants reach about 4” high they should be earthed-up. Done now and then repeated on a regular basis during the growing season it will encourage more tubers to form and also keep the upper-most ones from being exposed to light.
With a rake, draw earth up from between the rows to cover all but the top crown of leaves of each plant.
Window Boxes And Hanging Baskets
The shops are still full of cheap bedding plants that can be used in a window box or hanging basket display; a bit of work now and you will be rewarded with months of colour and fragrance. Readily available and easy to grow flowers include:
- Impatiens (busy lizzie)
Plant up your containers now but bear in mind that most of the plants you’ll be using are tender, so harden them off carefully and bring the containers indoors if frost threatens. Plants such as fuchsia, geranium and salvia will ultimately be more floriferous if the growing tips are pinched out two or three times as the seedling grows.
Buy in or make up a soil based compost to fill your containers (the added weight of such compost makes planters less likely to topple). Don’t use the old compost from last year.
Most importantly of all, remember that the key to a successful display is regular watering (once or even twice a day in Summer, come rain or shine), so only have the containers in a location where regular watering is realistically possible.
Feeding is also important and, although you can do this on a weekly basis with a liquid feed, you might want to consider adding a slow-release fertilizer to the soil now. This will feed the plants throughout the flowering season.
Save Empty Seed Packets
Seed packets very often contain a great deal of useful information; plant name obviously but also the sowing, growing and harvesting advice. When you have used the contents, therefore, keep the packets somewhere safe as the instructions will come in useful and, if nothing else, you’ll have a reminder of what you’ve grown.
Start Making Liquid Feed From Comfrey
If you grow comfrey to make your own liquid feed then make your first cut of the foliage this month so that you’ll have some feed ready when you most need it in six weeks or so (when fruits are starting to set on tomatoes, squashes etc. and flowers start to appear in window boxes and hanging baskets). If you can, leave some of your comfrey to grow on and flower, as the bees love it.
Pest Control – Act Now To ‘Nip It In The Bud’
One of the most effective ways of controlling pests is to anticipate future infestations and “nip them in the bud” whilst still at manageable levels. Throughout spring make regular checks for common pests in their favoured locations (usually on all that lovely fresh and vigorous new growth) and remove them before the population spreads or the individual pests grow and disperse. Common examples (chosen from the almost endless list) include:
The caterpillar-like larvae of the sawfly species that feed on foliage of the gooseberry (and, to a lesser extent, red and white currants) can do a considerable amount of damage in a short space of time. They hide en masse on the undersides of leaves and work their way outwards from the inner-most branches. Set aside a few minutes once or twice a week to check for signs of an infestation. If you have one then, for us organic gardeners at least, there’s little else you can do than get down on your hands and knees and pick them all off.
Aphids of Various Types
They’ll be on the underside of new leaves – I find blackcurrant is often the first crop to be hit. Remove by hand or spray with insecticidal soap.
The caterpillars hatch in early Spring from eggs laid on branches last Autumn/Winter and feed on the foliage, blossom and fruitlets of fruit trees. Remove by hand or with a jet of water. This will not only stop damage now but also reduce the chances of attack on the same tree next year (the females are flightless and therefore don’t spread far from the tree on which they lived as a caterpillar.)
Characteristic notches are made in the leaves by this pest. Remove by hand.
Small white flies that suck the sap of plants, turning leaves yellow and distorting or stunting growth. The honeydew they exude can encourage black sooty mould. You’ll find them on the undersides of the leaves of a wide variety of plants. A small vacuum cleaner can be used to remove many of the (flying) adults, whilst the (non-flying) nymphs can be removed by hand. Biological control is available (a small parasitic wasp).
The sap-feeding insect, which spends most of its life in the one location on a stem or leaf, is protected by a waxy shell. The honeydew secreted often causes black sooty mould. Remove what you can of an infestation with a damp cloth. Biological control is available.
Ants don’t feed directly off plants but their nesting activities can cause extensive root damage. Also they ‘farm’ aphids, feeding off the honeydew exuded. Ants prefer dry conditions, so keep soil damp and the atmosphere humid.
Sap-feeding greyish-white scale-like (but soft-bodied) insects that frequent leaf axils, the underside of loose bark, and other inaccessible areas of a wide range of greenhouse plants. Look also for the fluffy wax they secrete as this is where they lay their eggs.
The adults, dull grey beetle-like creatures that move relatively slowly, might be found in the greenhouse from spring to autumn. Although they do a fairly minor amount of damage to plants – nibbling notches in leaves – it is important to intercept them before they lay their eggs, as in the larval stage they do a huge amount of damage. The larvae, plump creamy-white maggots, eat the roots of plants (particularly pot plants), often to such an extent that the plant dies. Biological control is available in the form of parasitic nematodes.
Red Spider Mite
These tiny creatures are only just big enough to be seen with the naked eye. Look out instead for signs of their presence – mottled leaves and fine silky webbing. Red spider mite is a greenhouse pest that thrives in warm dry conditions, so keep the humidity high. Biological control – a predatory mite – is available.
In The Greenhouse
From now through to the end of summer you will need to take active steps, on a pretty much daily basis, to reduce the temperature in your greenhouse. Try the following:
- Damping down – temperature reduces as water evaporates from the drenched surfaces (and there is the additional benefit of increased humidity, which in turn reduces the amount of water the plants lose through evaporation.)
- Shading – not only to keep temperatures down to a healthy maximum but also to avoid plants getting scorched. Special shade-paint, adjustable b
linds within the greenhouse, or fine-mesh netting draped over the outside of the greenhouse are some of the options.
- Ventilation – Daily ventilation is vital. On sunny days you will need to open all vents – side and roof – and the door as well.
Watering And Feeding In The Greenhouse
Check pot plants and annual crops/ornamentals (tomato, pepper, cucumber, aubergine, melon, etc) daily to see if they need water. Although you should never let these plants dry out, initially watering should be a little on the sparse side; begin watering more thoroughly when fruits start to appear. Also when fruits start to appear, commence weekly feeding with a high potash liquid feed (tomato feed is ideal for most of these fruit-forming crops). Chillies fruit better if slightly stressed, so feed and water these less than other greenhouse crops.
Empty the Greenhouse
Aim to get as many plants as possible out of the greenhouses by the end of this month. The only plants left in should be those that will spend all Summer under cover. Half-hardy seedlings such as runner beans and french beans should be hardened-off (gradually acclimatised to outdoor conditions) before being planted in their final location.
Choose The Right Location For Annual Crops
Cucumber and melon need slightly warmer and more humid conditions than many other greenhouse crops (for example, tomato, pepper and chilli). So, position these in the warmest and most draught-free areas of the greenhouse, away from the doors. Even a relatively small domestic greenhouse will have a range of microclimates.
If you are growing vine tomatoes (as opposed to the bush or trailing varieties) pinch out side-shoots as they form and train the vine up a vertical support.
Previous garden tips that still apply
Be Friendly To Bumblebees
Bumblebee queens are looking for nest sites and nectar/pollen rich flowers. You can help and encourage these invaluable garden friends by providing both nesting sites and suitable flowers. (See Mar tips for details)
Plant Propagation By Layering
A new plant will be ready to cut away from the parent in about a year. (See Mar tips for details)
Do Your Own Trial
For those gardening problems you can’t find a reliable answer to, set up your own simple little trial. (See Apr tips for details)
Propagation By Softwood And Basal Cuttings
This method will allow you to produce large numbers of plants very quickly. You’ll need access to a greenhouse or a suitable window space indoors. (See Mar tips for details)
Hoe, Don’t Dig
By far the most effective way of removing weeds with minimal disturbance is with a sharp hoe. Aim to disturb the soil as little as possible. (See Apr tips for details)
Self-sown Flower Seedlings
Whilst weeding be on the lookout for self-sown seedlings from last year’s flowers that can be transplanted elsewhere. (See Apr tips for details)
Spring flowering ornamental shrubs are best pruned immediately after flowering. (See Apr tips for details)
Remember that hedges, bushes, trees and thickets may well contain bird nests at this time of year, so be watchful when trimming. (See Apr tips for details)
Care for Spring Bulbs After Flowering
Don’t remove foliage until it has died back naturally, deadhead the flowers and water at least once with a liquid feed. (See Apr tips for details)
In The Greenhouse: Annual Tender Crops
Seedlings of tomato, cucumber, melon, chilli, sweet pepper and the like should be potted on before outgrowing their container. (See Apr tips for details)
If you need any further advice about what to grow and how do grow it, or if there’s anything above that needs further explanation, then please feel free to contact me at: email@example.com